Lead pipes supplying water to homes will have to be replaced by next year because of health concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with local authorities and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to replace all lead pipes in advance of the December 2013 EU limits for concentrations of the metal in drinking water.
Dundalk Town Council has fully complied with the the current EU standard of up to 25 microgrammes of lead to a litre of water.
But this limit is set to tighten to 10 microgrammes a litre in 2013.
In 2008 tests were carried out on Dundalk water supplies after high levels of lead were found. County Manager Conn Murray told Dundalk Town Councillors that it was not a serious risk, but an issue that was being dealt with very seriously. He said it is important that people were given accurate information at all times.
It was believed that up to 70 properties in Dundalk were affected by lead contaminated drinking water at the time. These were all properties built up before 1970 and it was the lead water pipes that caused the problem. The lead dissolves in the water from these old connections.
Dundalk Town Council carried out tests when the problem came to light.
Over one hundred and sixty-four tests were carried out by the Council and 18 properties were found to have exceeded the lead limit. Mr Eamon Walsh, Director of Water and Environment Services Louth County Council, told councillors that people in affected houses were advised not to drink the water and free bottle water was supplied. All affected householders were notified by letter.
Mr Walsh said that water leaving the Cavan Hill treatment plant which serves Dundalk does not contain lead, but one of the solutions to the problem would be to add additional treatment to the water at the Cavan Hill.
At the time, Mr Walsh said it would not be possible to replace all the lead pipes connecting the 4,000 houses built in the town before 1970. It would cost an average of €1,000 per house to replace lead service piping.
Many houses built before 1970 may also have service pipes connecting them to the mains made from lead.
Older houses may also have the pipes in internal pluming. In these cases the responsibility for replacing the pipes lies with the householder.
The EPA said it wanted to raise public awareness of the issue before the 2013 deadline.